Being an ultra runner living in Utah means a lot of my running and mountain biking adventures occur in the mountains and in remote locations that have poor or no cellular reception. I also tend to run/ride alone quite often, and lately, those runs and rides have been getting longer and longer. For the sake of my family, I started looking around at various options in the event that there was some type of emergency, and I stumbled upon the Spot Gen3.
If you are unfamiliar with the Spot Gen3, it is a satellite-based communication device that can send out pre-programmed messages to any phone number or email address you specify, or if you opt-in for the service, an SOS message that will activate the appropriate location specific search and rescue teams.
I was really just looking for something portable and automatic that allowed me to contact my wife in one of tw0 situations; Let her know when I was done with my run/ride and on my way home or let her know that I wasn’t going to be done when I said I would be, so she wouldn’t worry. Given my specific needs, this device seemed like a perfect fit, and it gave me the SOS feature as well.
Height: 3.43″ (8.72cm)
Width: 2.56″ (6.5cm)
Thickness: 1″ (2.54cm)
Operating Temp: -22F – +140F (-30C – +60C)
Operating Altitude: -328ft – +21,320ft (-100m – +6500m)
Humidity Rated: MIL-STD-810F, Method 507.3, 95% to 100% cond.
Vibration Rated: Per SAE J1455
This past summer, Spot had a 50% mail-in rebate promotion going on (which I procrastinated sending in, so I’m still waiting for mine) with the purchase of a new Spot Gen3 priced $149.95 or higher (which is the retail price). I actually found the device online cheaper, but luckily I noticed the fine print because that extra few bucks I didn’t save initially allowed me to get the $75 rebate.
In addition to the rebate offer, I am also an REI member, and figured out that purchasing at REI would get me an instant 10% Member Dividend, which is worth doing even if you aren’t an REI member since that effectively pays for $15 of the $20 membership fee and you will earn dividends on all future purchases, get invited to Garage Sales, and get other benefits throughout the year.
Lastly, I also use a site called Active Junky, which has additional rebates of it’s own through various retailers as long as you create a free account and click through the site to the store you plan to shop at. The rebates fluctuate, but on the day I ordered, the rebate for REI through Active Junky was 7%. If you are active and purchase online, I highly recommend getting yourself a free Active Junky account.
All in, my Spot Gen3 ended up costing me:
Spot Gen3 $149.95
Sales Tax $10.27
Shipping $0 (Free shipping over $50)
And I got back:
REI Member Dividend $15
Active Junky Rebate $10.50
Spot 50% Rebate $75
For a Grand Total of $59.72
This is where getting the big discount up front helps out because you do have to pay a service fee to use the device since it constantly communicates with the Spot satellite network. I wasn’t able to find any discounts on the service charge, which would have been nice since it does cost $149.99 for the year. For this price you get the main 3 functions of the device:
- Basic tracking – The Spot Gen3 will update your location every 10 minutes automatically
- Messaging – You can program 3 buttons (Custom, Check-In, Help) to send whatever pre-configured message you want to any phone number(s) or email address(es)
- SOS – You can contact emergency services, for instance if you get lost or hurt and can’t get yourself home
For an additional fee, they also offer the following services:
- Enhanced Tracking – The ability to configure the upload interval and choose from 2.5, 10, 30, or 60 minute intervals
- GEOS – $100,000 reimbursement in the event that you need to utilize the SOS feature. If you do not have this feature, you are billed for the cost of search and rescue. With this feature, you basically don’t get billed.
Lastly, you also get access to some online tools:
- Social Media support – Ability to share your location on Facebook and/or Twitter
- SPOT Adventures – Online members only social networking platform where you can share tracks, photos, and stories from your adventures with other Spot users
I opted to just get the basic service, and did not opt for the GEOS insurance, my reasoning being that I don’t really travel that far from civilization, and my main motivation in purchasing the device was to stay in better contact with my wife and family, and I wasn’t too interested in the SOS/Emergency features. At some point in the future though, if I start going to more remote places, or get attacked by bears and moose, I can always add on the GEOS service. So far, it hasn’t been necessary.
Activation takes place via the findmespot.com website, and you will need the ESN and Authorization Code which are not-so-conveniently located on a sticker under the batteries that I rushed to install so I could play with my new toy and see all the blinky lights! Before you activate yours, write down your ESN and Authorization Code to save yourself from having to open/close the case and install/reinstall the batteries multiple times.
Once I unboxed the device and had it activated, I wanted to make sure it was updated so I downloaded the Spot Device Updater, plugged in the included USB cable, and opened the application. I needed the Authorization Code again (which is why it’s handy to have it written down), and once entered, the device updated with the latest firmware.
Once the device was up to date, I headed over to the findmespot.com website, logged in, went to My Devices, and configured a few of the buttons with some custom messages (“All Done, Headed Home!” and “Behind Schedule, Check in later”) and added my wife’s cell phone number and my own (for testing purposes) as the recipients.
The Spot comes with a velcro strap/carabiner that gives you from pretty flexible mounting options. Not heeding the advice prevalent throughout the Getting Started Guide, Online Help, and every other piece of paper provided, I strapped the Spot Gen3 on to the back of my Orange Mud hydration pack (facing behind me) and headed up to the trails. I turned the device on and waited for the GPS light to turn from red to green, indicating that it had acquired a satellite and was ready to roll. I held down the Tracking button (looks like a shoe print) until the light started blinking, and hit the trails. Given that the device communicates automatically every 10 minutes, you really don’t touch or use the device except at the beginning of your activity and at the end. The Spot Gen3 even has a neat feature that stops tracking when it senses you aren’t moving, to save battery life.
Once I finished my run, I pushed the button I had configured to send the “All Done, Heading Home” message to my wife, waited for the light above the envelope to finish blinking, and headed home. As I got back in to cell phone range, I received the message and I confirmed with my wife that she had also received the message. All in all, the first use was a success!
One of the cool features on the Spot Gen3 is the ability to overlay your updates on to a map and share that map with anyone you want (called a Share Page). You can create up to 10 share pages per device, make them public or private, and configure the amount of detail displayed on the page. This is handy for creating one page for your family with more details, and one page for your friends (or followers) with a few less details as necessary.
If you are thinking this is a good alternative to using a GPS watch or phone app, it really isn’t. Primarily because it only updates every 10 minutes so it doesn’t give you a very accurate track of your activity, and also because it doesn’t capture any pace or distance data. It’s great for your friends and family though to follow you during a race (where distance and pace may not be that important), or just to make sure you are still moving and alive!
After my first run with the Spot Gen3, I hurried home to check out my Share Page and I was a bit disappointed to see that even though I ran for an hour (and expected 6 to 8 spots on my map), I only had 3. The trail I ran did have some decent tree cover, which will affect satellite reception, but it turns out in the end, I believe the problem was my mounting location. Spot gives very specific advice to mount the device so that the top of the unit is facing the sky, and I had mounted it so the top of the unit was facing behind me. When I used the Spot Gen3 on the same trail again, I mounted the device in a shoulder pocket of my Orange Mud hydration pack that let the device point straight up, and all the updates, and their respective data points on the Share Page, were there.
Long story short, make sure you mount the device so it faces up to the sky, and you won’t have any missing data.
I’ve probably used the device about a couple dozen times now and ran a couple hundred miles with it (including a couple 50k races), and the Spot Gen3 has been a great little device for me and does exactly what I need it to do, which is to allow me to communicate with my wife. I admittedly have not been able to test the SOS feature, and I’m hoping I never have to, but I assume it works great based on the Rescue stories posted on the Spot website.
If you frequently venture out in to remote areas alone without any cell coverage, or just want the extra piece of mind that comes from being able to communicate from anywhere on earth and call for help, then I highly recommend buying a Spot Gen3 for yourself.
- Uses satellite so it works everywhere, even where cell phones don’t
- 4 programmable buttons give you a lot of flexibility in creating custom messages
- Battery life – I haven’t had to change the batteries yet, even after a few hundred miles of running with it
- Size – This is much smaller than any other competing option
- Expensive – Even if you can get the device cheap, the service fee is pretty hefty
- No ability to change messages without using the website. You really need to think about what messages you plan on sending before you head out on your adventure.
Suggestions for Spot
- Move the ESN and Authorization Code sticker to the inside of the battery door instead of beneath the batteries
- Put a bluetooth radio in the Spot so it can be synced to a smartphone as a virtual keyboard. That way you could eliminate buttons (reduce hardware complexity and cost) and expand functionality.
Have you used a Spot Gen3? Let me know your thoughts in the Comment section below!